Having a Cold Blast

by Zachary Michael Jack – I remember folks singing the region’s meteorological praises when first I came to the Monterey Peninsula. “It’s great,” they’d say, looking every bit the part of the booster. “It’s autumnal in Carmel all summer long,” they’d blithely chirp, in what must have been one of the greatest climatological euphemisms of all time. These folks, I said to myself, were born to be realtors.

Yes indeed, it can be downright brisk along Carmel and Monterey Bay in June when the marine layer rolls in, or when the fickle winds do an about-face and howl from the North. But there are hidden pleasures in shivering on Flag Day or grabbing your hoodie and Linus blanket to hear the municipal band play Taps on the Fourth of July. And here they are, in no particular disorder:

–No need to suffer the sinful bearing of bodies on Monastery Beach. The cold pleases the monk in us who’s justifiably sheepish at seeing the kind of flesh for which our ancestors must surely have said a thousand Hail Marys. An occasional summer deep freeze keeps even those with nudist tendencies safely and hygienically sealed in their North Faces. Where else can you see the mother of the bride wearing a parka over her low-cut dress at the ubiquitous June beach wedding? Are her teeth really chattering or is she merely overcome by emotion?

–Cold means the deep and inexplicable joy in witnessing visiting bon vivants shivering in shorts and black dresses. There’s something reciprocally and perversely satisfying in witnessing, in practice, the kind of gloriously lame last-minute packing we ourselves fall victim to when visiting foreign nations. There they stand, these summer visitors to our not-so-fair climes, happily shivering in their Hello Kitty t-shirts. Is the Weather Channel app not available in Milan and Tokyo, or are these the world’s sunny optimists? I like to think the bracing temps wake our visitors up, like receiving one of the cold slaps Bette Davis dishes out in the old black and white movies, opening their eyes to the California that lies beyond Baywatch and 90210.

–Brisk temps mean brisk sales at the surfeit of t-shirt and gift shops up and down Ocean Avenue and Fisherman’s Wharf. In the Midwest, snowy winters mean big bucks for private snowplow operators; on the Peninsula commerce-inducing cold drizzles send visitors scurrying inside to buy 50-cent rain slickers for the bargain price of $50. The look of joy worn by first-time parents beholding their healthy newborn hardly compares with the mien of mutual relief worn by a pair of drenched day-trippers ushered to the “outdoor gear” aisle. Ten minutes later, husband and wife emerge sporting a matched set of his-and-her rain slickers, fully satisfied in their orgasmic state of post-retail therapy. By then, of course, it’s sunny.

–Inclement weather breeds camaraderie and plenty of liquid consolation; just ask the Siberians, for whom vodka qualifies as a year-round, one-season-fits-all aperitif. Given half a chance, Peninsulans talk up the famously awful “Crosby weather” that attends the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am each February. They wax poetic about the peculiar pleasures of a day spent in a good, soaking rain chased by after-hours commiseration with friends, a warm fire, and a warming drink. Indeed, where would our world-famous watering holes be without the occasional blast of wintery summer weather that sends us bellying up to the bar with that cat-fallen-into-the-bathtub look? An hour later our undies are still soaked, but we’re having a kumbaya with the Norms at the bar, singing sea shanties and raising toasts to everyone including the in-laws.

–Traumatic experience during a childhood swim lesson? A little insecure about the new tattoo on the ol’ bod? Take heart! Summer on the Monterey Peninsula means you have a built-in excuse not to dip your toe in the water or to think better of that too-revealing swimsuit that makes you feel like you’re wearing sausage a casing. “I would, you know, but the water’s waaaay too cold,” you chirp, excusing yourself to stay in your cover-up a safe distance from the icy surf. To really sell it, ditch your flip-flops, mince to the water’s edge, then scream bloody murder and holy blasphemy when the waters, chilled to morgue’s temp at the bottom of some of the world’s deepest ocean trenches, shiver your timbers. To the legions of body shamed I say, relax, our insecurities are written off in advance. The hellish weather serves as our heaven-sent enabler!

We could go on and on about the abundant beauties and boons of our often bracing summer weather, but before we slip inside for a hot toddy in June one last recitation of our chilly virtues may do: where else in the world, I ask you, can you find so many perfectly good used wetsuits?

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